The Q&A Archives: New at Perennial Gardening

Question: We just bought our first house and there are established gardens with perennials coming up. I would like to expand on the gardens but I don't know how to care for plants/bulbs. When/or do you cut back the flowers such as daffadils and crocus when they are done blooming? When they are done can you plant other flowers around them just so you don't disturb the bulbs? I just planted some lily of the valley's and fressia's and a bleeding heart bush. Do I just leave these bulbs in the ground all year round and they will come up year after year? Any help or suggestions you can give me I would greatly appreciate. Even if there is a book that you suggest I buy that would be helpful too.

Answer: Care is similar for most types of spring bulbs. Many people remove the fully faded flowers on their larger bulbs sucha s daffodild and tulips. This makes the plant look better and also directs its energy into the bulb rather than into seed production. Crocus and other minor bulbs are too small for this procedure, though.

It is best to allow the bulb foliage to ripen naturally. This means leaving the leaves until they are about two thirds brown and dried out. Then remove them. You may also wish to mark the location of the bulbs now so that you do not dig them up by accident later.

A new garden is so exciting and it is such a temptation to fill it full immediately. But since there are already plants there, you may be wise to observe the garden the first year, learning about what has already been planted and becoming familiar with both those plants, their needs and care, and the growing conditions in your yard. An experienced gardener can help you identify plants and figure out how to care for them, as can visits to public gardens, plant nurseries and some good books. One good book to start with is "Gardening for Dummies" ISBN 1-56884-644-4.

Lily of the valley should come back every year and will spread if it is happy. It prefers rich moist soil and part shade. In some cases it is used as a ground cover.

Freesias are so lovely! They are usually grown as a houseplant and forced to bloom while temperatures are cool. You may be able to let the bulbs go dormant, then dig and replant them in a pot next August.

Finally, bleeding heart is a wonderful plant, but you should be aware that some varieties of it will die back to the ground during the summer. Don't worry -- it should come back next spring.

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